Beaches and palms, sunsets and sea life, sailboats and blossoms, warm Aloha and crashing waves ... nothing like a getaway to Hawaii. With help from my Pacific-islands-loving parents, it has come to feel like home.
Twice a week for four years I went to Fatuma's home to help her in the transition to America.
Fatuma was from Somalia, though she'd lived in refugee camps in Kenya for a good portion of her life.
Her husband was already good at English and had a job at the airport when I first started to their home.
Her older children were in school and a second language seemed to come easily to them.
Fatuma was home with babies and toddlers so getting to a class was difficult. Going to the store was intimidating. Dealing with American traditions was overwhelming.
So after some training, I got signed up to help.
I don't know if she learned anything over those four years of pictures and letters and flashcards and props and stories and explanations and sharing and trying and trying again.
But I did.
I learned about the price of opportunity. The price of freedom.
She had loved her home in Africa.
Her father had land and hundreds of animals. Life was simple. Children were home. Families were together.
But unrest made their home unsafe.
"Everybody wants to be the government," her husband told me when I asked about the government in Somalia. "Everybody fights. Everybody dies."
So they brought their family to America.
It wasn't easy.
Not to get here and not to adjust to here.
I taught Fatuma about our money, about our holidays (Halloween was especially unfathomable for her), about our schools.
I taught her husband, Ali, and his sister, Zeinab, about our government and our history and our geography to help them prepare to take their citizenship tests.
And they taught me.
I saw the love in their home. Young children helped younger children. Multiple generations lived together and took care of each other's needs.
I saw a deep religiosity in their home. Even young girls wore headscarves when they went to school or if I wanted to take a picture of them. They had a special room for worship and prayer. They fasted from sunrise to sundown for the month of Ramadan, even when it meant headaches and weakness.
During one visit, they were upset for a sister who had been resettled to Alaska. She was alone with children, had been sent their in the randomness of refugee resettlement decisions made by someone they would never be able to reach or reason with, and had no one to talk to or to understand her.
They wanted to drive there. Or fly her to Utah. Or find some way to help.
But we were all helpless.
Resettling to America isn't for the faint of heart.
It is for the brave. For those willing to risk all they know and understand for something new and frighteningly different.
They do it because there is safety here.
And one would help they would find support and understanding and acceptance as well.
Fatuma and Ali and their family moved to Minnesota some years ago so our weekly visits have ended.
They went for new opportunities and a larger community from their homeland to support and relate to them.
While I no longer spend time with them, I continue to have hope for them and the children they brought to America to provide a future of opportunity and security.
They are all American citizens now.
They know about the balance of powers, the first president, the longest river, the countries at our borders, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.
And when they took the naturalization oath to become citizens, they renounced allegiance to any other country and pledged to support ours in any way that might be asked of them.
And though I never used to worry about what is ahead for them here, things have changed.
They are free from the fear and oppression of the homeland of their birth.
I hope they can be free from fear in their new one.
"Give me your tired, your poor," reads the poem inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, "your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
If you like what you read here, you may be interested in learning more about the books I've published -- one that looks at life through the perspective of family, one that looks at education through the perspective of a substitute teacher.
If you like what you see here, you may be interested in checking out the photo cards I make or the enlargements I offer, or in requesting a print of special shot you love from my blog.
If you like what you both read and see on this blog -- you'll want your very own copy of some favorite blog entries and photos compiled in my latest book: "Discoveries."